Why We Should Allow Our Kids To Fail
Teaching Kids Resilience Through (Ugh!) Failure
As she watched her 9 year old struggle to learn a new soccer move in the backyard, Vanessa Charette, M.D., realized she was watching her son grow up right in front of her eyes.
I felt myself learning more about being a parent,” Dr. Charette, a Cook Children’s pediatrician Fort Worth (Magnolia) said. “The move was hard and he struggled. For an hour he worked on the move and during that time he was frustrated. He cried a little. He talked to himself. He fell down. He threw leaves. He got angry. But through all of it he kept trying the move and he got better.”
Dr. Charette stood at a distance and watched her son. Sometimes she retrieved ball for him and said nothing.
“We want to encourage our kids, give them pointers and smooth the way for them,” Dr Charette said. “I am learning as they grow toward adulthood that more often they just want a parent nearby but quiet and staying out of it.”
As hard as it is sometimes, perhaps the best thing we can do for our kids is to allow them to fail.
This means don't do for a child what a child can do for themselves. A school-age child can do self-care and small jobs around the house. A preteen and teen should learn to manage finances, make a meal, do laundry and talk to a teacher or coach on their own.
Kids are more capable than we allow them to be. Dr. Charette suggests we allow them to try something on their own before we show them how to do it. We can allow some frustration now so they can learn how to manage that feeling for life. We can teach them to ask for help when they need it but not step in and offer help too soon. We can give them the confidence to do something on their own by allowing them to try. When we step back we allow them to fail and recover and learn.
Kathleen Powderly, M.D., who shares an office with Dr. Charette, knows as parents we are internally wired to love and protect our children.
As parents we all want our children to thrive and succeed. Providing them with opportunities for the future that we may or may not have had ourselves is important. Our desire for their success is rooted in love.
“Yet as much as it breaks our hearts to see our kids struggle and perhaps fail, it’s important for their development,” Dr. Powderly said. “If we can allow these circumstances to occur, kids build a library of knowledge on how to manage failure. This is important as they grow into adolescence. The normal impulsivity of puberty combined with a lack of resiliency can lead to stress, anxiety, and difficulty adjusting to new circumstances. If this ability is not nurtured while they are young, in the protective environment of a supportive family, the difficulties and failures everyone encounters in adulthood will be magnified.”
So when your first grader forgets his or her library book, don’t make a second trip to the school. In the third grade, if they forget their math homework, do not call around to other parents to find the work and have it emailed to you. In the sixth grade, as group work becomes important, let them design their plan of work. If one child is not working in the group, have your child intercede with them or the teacher. If not chosen for a sports or academic team, do not call the coach or sponsor to complain but have your child ask why and what steps they can to be successful the next time. Let them face the consequences and be supportive of them during these times. Work together on developing a strategy for success whether its advice on how to deal with peers, how to speak with a teacher or coach, or organizational tips.
“I count myself as guilty, on many of the above, with my own teenage son,” Dr. Powderly said. “It has been a learning process as a parent. What a fine line it is between guiding them to success by allowing them to choose their path or not allowing them to experience disappointment because we’ve guided them out of poor choices. They need to learn that no one is successful at everything at all times. Failure in childhood allows kids to realize that a yellow tab on the discipline board or a poor grade on an English project does not define them. This does not mean there are not consequences either at school or home. However, they typically learn that the consequences are not nearly as bad as what they envisioned and many times are given opportunities to correct a mistake. If the first time this occurs is in college or later, they may not have those skills to bounce back.
“Our hearts break when our kids’ hearts break. Yet it is even more amazing to see them succeed after failure. Their vault of resiliency and ability to become mentally healthy adults resides in our capacity as parents to let them fail.”
Get to know Cook Children's Magnolia
Vannessa Charette, M.D., and M. Kathleen Powderly, M.D., are both pediatricians at Fort Worth Magnolia. Our Fort Worth (Magnolia) doctors are specialists in the health care of infants, children and adolescents. Our team includes board certified pediatricians that, together with you, will get your kids on the path to leading happy and healthy lives. Click here to learn more about the pediatricians and click here to make an appointment or call 817-993-4062.